Santa’s off to Sydney

Aditi Sengupta | Updated on: Dec 19, 2019
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The Arctic Circle is feeling the effects of climate change. That’s why Santa Claus is off to the Southern Hemisphere this year — to get used to life without reindeer and ice

December 2019

Santa Claus Village

Rovaniemi, Lapland,

Arctic Circle

Dear Barney,

It’s 1 am in my part of the world. And Mrs Claus insists, angrily, that it’s way past my bedtime. She is (always) right — I am too old for a nocturnal life. But let me tell you why I must write this letter right now.

All my life — please don’t ask me to count the years — I have received only wish-lists and requests for gifts from children all over the world. From a new set of parents to a bagful of elves, little girls and boys have only asked me to get things for them.

You’re the first one to send me a gift! That too, air tickets to Sydney!

It’s a great idea, Barney. I’d love to spend Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere... roll on the beaches under the sun, have a surf-and-turf lunch with chilled lager and watch films in an open-air bed cinema.

Frankly, it’s getting quite warm up here. And I am told — by Google, through its many ominous news alerts — that it’s going to get warmer every year. It’s only -9°C at Santa Claus Village tonight, which is at least 5 degrees more than normal for mid-December.

Rudolph and his ilk are unhappy.

First, it’s not that cold. The ice hasn’t formed very well. And the fresh snow is making it difficult for them to walk on ice.


Dear deer: Unseasonal rains in the Arctic Circle have affected the growth of lichens — the food of reindeer


Second, his hardy red nose, which is so famous around the world, is having trouble finding lichens. Rudolph won’t have anything but lichens for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the change in climate has affected its growth. Every time it rains in winter — which it never did earlier — it becomes even harder for the reindeer and their caribou cousins to get their fix of lichens.

It was only six months ago that Rudolph came to know of the death of 200 Arctic reindeer in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. Three researchers from the Norwegian Polar Institute, while counting wild reindeer population, came across the carcasses on one of the islands. They said the deer didn’t find food! They had starved to death, because unseasonal rain had made grazing conditions difficult.

Rudolph has been out of spirits since then. He refused food for the first few days, worried about the plight of his fellow Arctic species: the silver fox, the beluga whale, the crustaceans, the Arctic tern, the harp seal and many others. We even shed tears for the hungry and emaciated polar bear that walked at least 500 miles looking for food in an industrial town in Siberia. People shared videos and photos of the bear, clicked on ‘sad’ and ‘weeping’ emojis on Facebook, and then, to cheer themselves up, ordered takeaway food and beverages in plastic containers.

I, too, tried to cheer Rudolph up — with an eco-friendly snowman I built with my old hands. It worked, only for a bit. Rudolph’s mood, and mine, changed with the arrival of bad news from Alaska.

My look-alike at the Santa Clause House there wrote in to say that the annual Christmas in Ice winter park will not open this year — because of lack of ice! So there won’t be any snowman, reindeer, giant cakes, mistletoes or polar bears in ice at this lovely winter park. Executive director Keith Fye told journalists that there isn’t enough ice in the ponds to use for the carvings and statues.

But why is there no ice? Till October this year, there was hardly any ice on Alaskan lakes and ponds. The lowest temperature recorded that month was only 14°C — just not good enough for ice formation.

I feel bad for those who loved to visit the park every Christmas, frolicking in the winter wonderland amid fairy lights and fireworks. I guess they have to do with artificial Christmas trees and mistletoes at home this time. Or maybe fly to Dubai’s Ice Park — where they can admire, among other things, sculptures of dinosaurs, camels and Burj Khalifa. I am not sure if the park has a statue of me in ice, yet.


People in Iceland, I am told, are worried about my future. I read some reports — thanks to journalists, the harbinger of woes — that Icelanders expressed concern about rising temperatures in the Arctic Circle when they gathered in August, to mourn the death of a glacier. They mounted a bronze plaque on a bare rock on the terrain once covered by the Okjökull glacier. The plaque says “A letter to the future”, with the intention of pressing every panic button for climate change.

The death of the glacier was a shocker — that too in Iceland. The funeral was held a month after July 2019 was declared to be the warmest July ever.

People in Iceland are also worried about something I love eating: The delicious cod. Have it grilled, pickled, salted, it is bound to lift the spirits of the most dejected soul. (The cod, I believe, works wonders for those who live in countries that see no sun for almost six months of the year; the long periods of darkness drive people to suicide, depression and divorce.) The fish, which is the stuff of Viking legends, thrives in the icy waters around, erm, Iceland. But their future, too, (along with my dinner) is threatened by the warming and the increasing acid levels of the ocean. It means that the cod won’t spawn as many eggs, and I have to look for other sources of protein to impress and pacify Mrs Claus.

Mrs Claus is averse to change. She won’t like the idea of flying to a sunny beachside for Christmas. But I will broach the subject with caution: Probably with the last piece of cod fillet in our melting igloo fridge.


The other person who doesn’t like change — more s pecifically, climate change — is my friend Donald Trump. He is now the President of the US and lives in the stately White House in Washington DC. He refuses to believe there is something called climate change. He thinks it’s something that China has invented to intimidate anyone who likes to get intimidated. As long as the sun and the moon are around --- along with enough burgers to feed the White House staff — Trump is not worried about dying glaciers, starving animals, raging bush fires and vanishing rainforests. He is also not scared of Greta Thunberg’s searing gaze — in a famous tweet, Trump said that Greta needs to “chill” and sort out her “anger management issues”.

But let’s not go on about that now. It’s almost 3am and I have to slink into bed before Mrs Claus finds me out.


Fire alert: A koala named Anwen recovers from burns at a hospital in Australia


I am ready to join you and your friends in Sydney for Christmas this year. Please ensure that the bush fires are out by then. I am getting used to warmer temperatures but an inferno is not quite my thing. And because Rudolph won’t be able to join me there — airlines still don’t have a cargo policy for reindeer, you see — I must have another animal as company. How about an orphaned koala? I have been watching heart-breaking videos of koalas trapped in the fires that have destroyed their habitat. Can we spend Christmas with them? They could do with all the hugs and eucalyptus leaves.

And on my way to Sydney, I’ll stop by for a quick word with some of my Inuit friends in Canada’s Labrador region.

The Inuit parents are worried that their youngsters, unable to cope with the effects of climate change on their food, lifestyle and traditional occupations such as fishing, are taking to drugs and alcohol in an alarming manner. I think they need Father Christmas around them — along with a supply of trout, salmon and berries. So I’ll sing them a few carols (I am making a list of songs that don’t have too much snow and sleigh in the lyrics) and board the flight to Sydney.

I can’t help but add that this flight won’t make things any better for global warming. But don’t the world leaders also fly in their private jets to meet and discuss climate change? Hell, yeah!

See you soon, Barney! Keep my beach clothes ready.



Published on December 20, 2019

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